As the Northern Territory prepares to open its borders on Friday after quarantine restrictions were imposed in March, Chief Health Officer Hugh Heggie says he is “calm and confident” but concerned Territorians were no longer taking physical distancing seriously.
From Friday, many domestic travellers will be able to visit the NT without having to go into quarantine for 14 days.
When the lifting of border restrictions was first announced last month it applied to the whole country, but since then Chief Minister Michael Gunner has declared the whole of Victoria, Sydney and the Blue Mountains coronavirus hotspots due to new outbreaks.
Any arrivals from those places, which represent more than 10 million people, will be sent to supervised quarantine for 14 days at their own expense, costing $2500.
The Northern Territory has avoided any community transmission or deaths of COVID-19, with 32 cases since early March and only two currently active.
“In the past I have been known to say ‘I am terrified and confident’, right now I am calm and I am confident because we do have all of the things in place,” Heggie said.
That included testing capability, intensive care capability, retrieval of people, isolation of people and potential lockdowns of urban, apartment or remote communities if there were outbreaks, he said.
“I think this is where it swings back to: we’ve got things in place: I’m confident, are we all confident about our own behaviours?”
Those travellers that come to the Territory will have to sign statutory declarations that they have not been in a hot spot and face heavy fines or even jail if caught lying.
Heggie agreed that with the NT having had no community transmission of COVID-19 and its lockdown restrictions lifted, people were not practising physical distancing and taking the risks of getting the virus as seriously as they should.
He warned a hard lockdown could easily occur in the NT forcing businesses to shut if there was an outbreak and people were not practising distancing.
“I have the last couple of days seen close encounters with people having conversations close in contained spaces, that’s where most of the transmission has occurred,” he said.
By Greg Roberts in Darwin